Francis Chan has recently been the focus of much Evangelical ire due to a recent sermon where he appears to be not only decrying the memorialist position of the Lord’s Supper (also known as The Holy Communion) but also makes a rather spurious claim that over a millennium the church’s normative view of the Sacrament was that the bread and wine were the actual body and blood of Christ (Transubstantiation).
(Here is the link to the clip also)
Evangelicals were critical of Chan, concerned that he is about to cross the Tiber, Roman Catholics were excited that is about to cross the Tiber. However, Chan has touched on a subject that I think Evangelicals do well to consider; that the Sacrament of Holy Communion is more than merely “have crackers and grape juice and remember Jesus”.
I remember last year visiting an Anglican church in another diocese and attending a Holy Communion Service. When it came to the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, the clergy did the right things, they said the right things, but they came across almost apologetic about it, as if this was something they had to do and worked hard to get it over and done with as quickly as possible. Their hearts were not in it.
Were they embarrassed? Why did they seem to treat the command of the Lord Jesus as perfunctory? I could not work it out at the time. But a question that comes to mind when reflecting on the Lord’s Supper is this:
Why do many of us Protestants dumb-down the supper of the Lord? Why do we take it for granted as we seem to, that it appears to be of secondary and/or of minor importance? Why do we appear to treat the Lord’s Supper as mere preliminaries to the main event (which of course is preaching)?
Don’t get me wrong, without the faithful proclaiming and expounding of the Holy Scriptures, the Sacrament loses its meaning, for it is on the platform of the Word of God that the Sacraments stand. Or to put it another way, the Lord’s Supper (like the sacrament of Baptism) is an enacted form of the Word of God itself. However, the Lord’s Supper, should it be treated as an appendix that we apologise for? Should our expectations be higher than what they appear to be in some Evangelical Anglican circles?
Bishop Julian Dobbs (who is a Conservative Reformed Evangelical Bishop of the Diocese of the Living Word) states:
The trouble is that we have been shaped more than we know by a superficial and reactionary tradition that there is wisdom in not making too much of the Lord’s Supper. The idea that in Christian worship that this sacrament is of secondary importance is more wrong than right.
I believe that Bishop Dobb’s is onto something here.
The Anglican view is that the Lord’s Supper is a little more than a memorial, (for the RCC it is a lot more than a memorial). The Reformers deny transubstantiation as seeing it as being not scriptural however they saw that Lord’s Supper is not just about drinking juice, eating crackers and thinking about Jesus. In the Lord’s Supper, something is going on spiritually – sanctification, growth.
A Sanctifying Sacrament: The Lord’s Supper sanctifies God’s people. Contrary to the Roman Catholic position (which views the Lord’s Supper as a Justifying sacrament), Justification has been granted by grace through faith in Christ (which we have already have received). But we are works in progress, we need to grow in Christ, and become more like him, we need to be sanctified. The Lord’s Supper sanctifies us. Article XXV states:
Of the Sacraments
The Sacraments were not ordained by Christ to be gazed upon or to be carried about, but that we should duly use them. And in such only as worthily receive the same they have a wholesome effect and operation…”
The Lord’s Supper is a memorial but more than a mere memorial, perhaps the term Effectual Memorial is an apt descriptor.
Article 28 of the 39 Articles:
Of the Lord’s Supper
The Supper of the Lord is not only a sign of the love that Christians ought to have among themselves one to another; but rather it is a Sacrament of our Redemption by Christ’s death: insomuch that to such as rightly, worthily, and with faith, receive the same, the Bread which we break is a partaking of the Body of Christ; and likewise the Cup of Blessing is a partaking of the Blood of Christ.
Transubstantiation (or the change of the substance of Bread and Wine) in the Supper of the Lord, cannot be proved by holy Writ; but is repugnant to the plain words of Scripture, overthroweth the nature of a Sacrament, and hath given occasion to many superstitions.
The Body of Christ is given, taken, and eaten, in the Supper, only after an heavenly and spiritual manner. And the mean whereby the Body of Christ is received and eaten in the Supper is Faith.
The Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper was not by Christ’s ordinance reserved, carried about, lifted up, or worshipped.
The Lord’s Supper is a sign and a memorial but it is also more. There is a two-fold action that takes place when a person receives the Lord’s Supper; with both aspects being defined by faith and knowledge in Christ:
1 – Our action – deliberate remembering, calling him to mind, joyfully contemplating him, praising him, praying to him.
2 – God’s action – renewing our gratitude for grace, our confidence in forgiveness by grace, our hope for glory, and our strength for service, all by the Holy Spirit. Christ is alive and with us now in resurrection power by the Holy Spirit, he is the true minister each time the supper is celebrated. The Supper is about Him.
We should think of the bread and wine as coming to us by the hand of Christ himself and his guarantee to us in love, he will nourish us spiritually forever.
This distinguishes the Anglican position from the Memorialist position (the position of Zwingli) and from the Roman Catholic transubstantiation position.
Why taking the Lord’s Supper is always good for God’s people
The symbolic routine of repeatedly sharing bread and wine made significant by Jesus’ words witnesses to the two most far-reaching events in world history; both past and future:
The Past – Jesus’ self-sacrifice on the cross, which opened the gate of eternal life for all who believe.
The Future – Jesus return (for universal judgment) and the remaking of the entire cosmos at which time sacramental rites will be no more “With this bread and wine, we proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes”.
Just as everyday eating and drinking brings physical nourishment to our bodies, the ritual eating and drinking that Christ prescribed brings spiritual nourishment to us.
Bishop Dobbs again states:
From this union, through the Holy Spirit, spiritual vitality flows into each one of us; health and strength for devotion and service; inner resources of love, ability and power that we continue to discover in our lives by the power of God the Holy Spirit.
The author of the Book of Common Prayer, Archbishop Cranmer knew this and he was also cognisant of the Apostolic warning given by Paul in 1 Corinthians 11: 27-29:
 Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord.  Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.  For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.  That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.
The issue is what Paul says in v.29 – Without discerning the body.
My take is that it is usually understood in one of two ways.
- Without discerning the body: “not understanding that the bread represents the body of Christ that was sacrificed for us,” with the result that such people do not act in a Christlike, self-sacrificial way.
- Without discerning the body: “not recognising the spiritual reality of what is happening at the Lord’s Supper, and therefore they are acting in a way that dishonours Christ.
Whatever one’s view is, the warning from Paul are words not to forget in a hurry nor dismiss easily. We take our lives into our hands when we come to the table. That is why we examine our hearts, why we repent of our wickedness, why we don’t participate in this sacrament if we are not repentant and if we have not come before the Lord to turn our lives from sin towards Christ.
The Lord’s Supper is a sacrament of the Gospel given to us by Christ himself, an outward visible sign, (the bread and wine), of an inward and spiritual grace given to us by Christ himself. While we must remember the Lord Jesus Christ, (what He has done, and what He is going to do), it is much much more than remembering. For coming to the table you have a meal not only with one another but with the Lord Jesus. Yes the Lord Jesus is not physically present (for He has ascended to the Father) but He is present by His Holy Spirit.
So much more than Crackers and grape juice.